Poolside landscaping requires special consideration in terms of plant choices, building materials and overall aesthetics. The landscape should relate visually to the pool, accentuating its shape and the beauty of the water. If there is a moderately sloped area adjacent to the pool, it is an opportunity to incorporate an attractive border to frame the landscape. Rather than spend thousands hiring a landscape designer, simple projects can be accomplished by any motivated pool owner.
Slopes leading down to a pool can be problematic, even if they are slight, because soil and mulch can wash onto the pool patio and end up in the water. To prevent this, install a border or low retaining wall. If only a few inches need to be built up, flexible plastic, metal or wood edging can be staked into place as an inexpensive option. Flexible edging is particularly handy for curved borders. Used bricks are cheap and can be neatly stacked two or three high and mortared into place to form an edging. Natural stone is expensive to buy, but can be cost-effective if stones are already on the site. Finally, landscape timbers and manufactured concrete blocks are relatively low cost and good options if a low retaining wall is needed for the slope.
Covering the Ground
If established by seed, lawns are generally the least expensive way to cover the ground. They are appropriate near a pool and provide a place to lounge in the sun. If the slope is too steep, however, the lawn will be difficult to mow. Large-scale ground covers can be established quickly and inexpensively. For example, purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) grows quickly to 18 inches tall and 6 feet wide. It blooms from spring to fall, and the purple blossoms are a favorite of butterflies. Ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) is a low-maintenance ground cover that grows at a similar rate, but stays under 1 foot tall. It has succulent-like foliage and pink or yellow flowers, depending on the variety. Both of these tough, drought-tolerant plants can be purchased in ground cover flats and are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 to 11 and 7b to 11, respectively. They are also tolerant of intense heat and sun, which are the typical conditions along the edge of a pool.
Adding a Few Accents
A poolside landscape would not be complete without several vertically oriented plants to fill out the landscape. Palms are a classic choice as they exude a tropical feeling and have little in the way of leaf or fruit drop -- a key characteristic for reducing pool maintenance. The Guadalupe palm (Brahea edulis) is a variety that grows up to 35 feet and makes a stunning specimen near a pool. For a smaller palm, the dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) is a good option, rarely growing over 6 feet tall when mature. These two specimens are hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11 and 7b to 11, respectively.
Easy Installation Tips
The first step in putting together the poolside landscape is to check the soil conditions. If there is dark, crumbly topsoil to a depth of 6 inches or more, it needs no further attention. Otherwise, spread 2 to 3 inches of compost over the surface and till it into the soil as deep as possible. Smooth out the area with a rake, evening out any dips and mounds in the process. Dig down about two inches at the edge of the pool patio to install the border or retaining wall. Add 1 inch of crushed rock to the bottom of the trench and tamp it firmly to make a stable base. The specimen plants should be placed next, a minimum of 8 to 10 feet back from the edge of the patio. Add the ground cover plants all around, mixing them in broad swaths of varieties with different colored flowers and foliage textures.
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